Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tomatoes, fish and blogs

No, it's not a list of ingredients for a weird recipe, just a list of things I have to remember to maintain, and all of which start out with the best of intentions, ending up in a few straggly brown plants, an algae-covered tank, and a bad case of writer's block.

To explain how these odd ingredients actually do connect, I'm borrowing a line from Alan Jay Lerner, the lyricist & playwright (for My Fair Lady, Camelot, etc.). In his memoir, he wrote that he became a theatre writer ecause of "a cigarette, a left hook, and a wrong turn on the way to the men's room". (The cigarette got him kicked out of prep school en route to a diplomatic career, the left hook in a college boxing match damaged his vision & kept him out of the war, and the wrong turn was taken by Fritz Loewe, causing him to meet Lerner and launching a very successful collaboration.) I always loved that elegant combination of seemingly unrelated events (even though the memoir also contains lengthy descriptions of the writing retreats Lerner & Loewe spent at their various country homes, complete with a full complement of servants catering to their every need, taking 2 months to write one song, and I want to yell, "Okay, let's see you write a song while shelpping 2 kids around, running a home, teaching voice lessons, and doing all your writing at 5 a.m. before the kids get up!")

Anyway, my serendipitous combination of circumstances may not lead to a successful career, but it has shown me I need to slow down a bit and take better care of myself, as well as take better care of the tomatoes I planted with such optimism but occasionally forget to water. Meanwhile, the fish tank was a well-intended gift from the boys' godfathers (my best friend from college, Andy, and his husband-until-Calif.-figures-out-what-to-do-about-the-gay-marriages-performed-before-Prop.8, Bob, who has proclaimed himself to be the boys' 'fairy godmother'). The idea of the tank was that the boys were totally responsible for it* and I was to do nothing but watch and enjoy. I guess I missed the asterisk . . . *until they both get really busy with their respective activities and mom caves in and cleans the tank . . . . and since I teach my voice lessons in the room with the tank, I have to look at the algae on a regular basis.

Then there's the lapses in blog entries. I had all these noble intentions, to post twice a week, to cross-post to other more popular sites so I could follow in Diablo Cody's footsteps (she's the Academy-Award-winning screenwriter who got her start blogging about her work as a stripper . . . not that I'm stripping, but I figured someone out there is reading these blogs . . . oh, never mind). Anyway, it meant I stopped writing for my own enjoyment and was thinking of my blog as a promotional activity, which pretty much took the fun out of it, and sure enough, over 2 weeks have gone by where I didn't even realize I hadn't been posting, I just got busy with other things.

So - I hereby resolve to water plants, clean the fish tank, and write blog entries purely for my own enjoyment, and if my efforts produce edible tomatoes, a beautiful aquarium, or a screenwriting contract, that's icing on the cake. Meanwhile, after I get myself more serene and then become an overnight success after 35 years, I can use this series of events to launch my own memoirs, and make Alan Jay Lerner look lazy by comparison.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

&*@# Ikea . . .

I've always had a love/hate relationship with Ikea, the build-it-yourself furniture superstore. One the one hand, even before the recession I appreciated a bargain, and I like to think that even if I had $5,000 to spend on an end table, I wouldn't be so wasteful. Walking through Ikea's beautiful but maze-like showroom and seeing the ridiculously low prices gives me the same high I got the first time I went to Loehmann's (back in the day when it was a real outlet with real discounts; heck, I went to the original one in the Bronx, where I fought for mirror space with an entire Mah Jongg club, only to emerge triumphantly with a beautiful lined wool coat for $40).

However, when I bring home my clothing finds from Loehmann's (or TJ Maxx or Target), all I have to do is cut the tags off, maybe fix a loose button or take up a hem. With Ikea furniture, even a simple end table comes in hundreds of pieces, and furthermore, there are no instructions, just a series of weirdly drawn, confusing diagrams. (hank goodness I helped my boys do all those stupid Bionicles and Legos, with pre-literate instructions - but it's still confusing. With almost every piece I've assembled, I've made a significant mistake (put on the drawer bottom incorrectly so the raw side shows, or screwed in the side legs backwards so the table is lopsided). And inevitably I lose or misplace one of the little annoying pieces, the wood pegs or odd-shaped screws.

Last night the boys and I started on David's desk (replacing the one he's had since he was a baby - he's almost 16, so even though we really couldn't afford new furniture, it was time!). For most of the evening it was actually a wonderful bonding experience, where I gained new appreciation for Ben's strength and David's coordination, and they realized that their mother actually knew something about assembling furniture. (It was also a great opportunity for the boys' favorite game, adding "that's what she said" to otherwise innocuous sentences to make them sound dirty - since we were dealing with screws, nuts, and protrusions that had to fit into corresponding holes, you can just imagine the conversation.) I was glowing with maternal pride (until we ended up screaming at each other about which parts needed to be put away so the dog wouldn't eat them, or something like that). I just pray today's session ends a little more smoothly - but I already have frayed nerves, scraped fingers and a sore back from the dresser we just completed, so even under the best conditions, assembling Ikea furniture leaves me pretty ragged.

So why do I keep going back? Sure, part of it is the money - I've bought (and assembled) 2 nightstands, a coffee table, the desk in my office, several bookcases, and 4 deskchairs for what a nightstand would cost in a regular furniture store. But it's also the thrill of the bargain, as well as that profound sense of accomplishment I get when I close the drawer in a bedside table that I built myself. (Okay, it doesn't close all the way, but I still built it!) And I hope I'm teaching my kids the satisfaction of doing something for themselves, as well as how to wield a screwdriver, how to read weird diagrams, and how to apologize to their loved ones after they lose their temper.

Friday, April 10, 2009

News Flash - Iowa is Hipper than California?

Sad, but true - California is way behind the curve these days. Oh, we may have led the way once, as the birthplace of movies, right-turn-on-red, flower power, and electing movie stars as governors, but we are hopelessly out of date when it comes to real cultural progress. It was bad enough when we were shown up by old fuddy-duddy New Englanders like Massachusetts and Connecticut. But now one of those mid-western, heartland red states we've always thumbed our noses at has shown us who's really up to date. And Iowa? How can the state immortalized for disapproving of pool tables (in The Music Man) legalize gay marriage before the really hip states?

It's gotten to the point where California and New York are trying to prove which is closer to getting there - here in Calif. we claim we sort of had gay marriage, but we're waiting for the court decision on Prop 8, the state referendum we insist was skewed by out-of-state Mormons throwing their money around; meanwhile, in Albany, legislators are bragging that their state was the first one to sort of get a gay marriage bill started without a court mandate, even though it hasn't passed the state assembly yet. While they bicker, betrothed gay couples will be leaving San Francisco and Jones Beach for such hotspots as Waterloo and Des Moines (or maybe Bridgeport, Connecticut) for their destination weddings, and stay tuned for leather bars and lesbian coffee houses to proliferate in Burlington and Montpelier. (And how's this for pathetic - I had to look up Vermont cities online, I couldn't even think of any!)

I actually feel sorry for those Defense of Marriage folks - it's one thing to rail against the cross-dressing commie pinko weirdos in the Castro or Miami Beach, or for Sarah Palin to insist she supports 'real Americans', not the effete liberals who live in California or New York (which I guess are no longer part of America?) But it's a lot harder to rant about the lack of traditional values in Vermont or Iowa. Meanwhile, none of their predictions has materialized, or at least I haven't heard of any Connecticut bluebloods petitioning to marry their dogs or Vermont maple trees turning gay.

What's next, folks, will South Dakota and Kansas be next? How can California possibly maintain its image as the nation's weirdest state? (Although when it comes to marriage, Utah still has that polygamy thing to live down . . . . ) Come on, folks, we have to get it together quickly, so that California is once again ahead of the curve - I mean, everyone else has right turn on red, there are indie music festivals in Kentucky, and in San Francisco's once bizarre Castro neighborhood, a proliferation of suburban-type families are living happily among the cross-dressers and "Hot & Hunky" hamburger stands.

If we don't restore our reputation soon, we'll end up being outdone by dozens of other states - and it would be truly humiliating if Utah legalizes gay marriage before we do.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Romance, mystery and the common cold

Every generation seems to have its version of advice on how to enhance romance. In the 70s, there was Marabel Morgan's Total Woman, which basically advised women to be a combination of biblical helpmeet and Playboy bunny. (Joan Rivers tried the suggestion that wives wrap themselves in Saran wrap and nothing else, and lie down on the kitchen table, and her husband's reaction was, "What, leftovers again?") In the 90s, there were The Rules, telling women to play hard to get and never to admit how much money they made. And these days you can find hundreds of books recommending that a wife turn over all the finances to her husband because "it's too hard for li'l ole me", even if she's the primary breadwinner.

But in between all the more lampoonable advice you can usually find some more reasonable suggestions, and what pops up most often is "preserve some mystery". In other words, you'll be more alluring if you don't let your husband see you putting on makeup, tweezing your chin, or squatting on the toilet. Which sounds great in theory, although between our hectic lives and my nice-Jewish-girl body hair, if I never let Scott see me grooming, we'd never finish a conversation. But the idea is good, and I vowed to start being a bit more reserved and mysterious, until I came down with a whopper of a cold.

It was bad enough that my husband got to see me wheezing, sniffling, and shuffling around the house in a fog, not to mention my oh-so-attractive watery eyes and red, swollen nose. (Why can't I ever get sick in a pale-yet-alluring way? I remember sharing a cold with a college roommate, and we dragged ourselves out to watch the Hitchcock classic film, Notorious, in which Ingrid Bergman's double agent character is dying from being poisoned, and she looked even more beautiful, especially compared to our haggard appearances, which made us feel even worse.) Oh well, we both swore to love & honor each other in sickness, not just health, and he was remarkably sweet, asking how I was feeling, fetching me hot tea, and ignoring my richter-scale-loud sneezes.

But then there's the matter of Kleenex - warning, this is about to get graphic, so if you're squeamish or lack a sense of humor, switch over to a scrapbooking blog or youTube videos of stupid cat tricks - anyway, it's not just the used ones that pile up on the bedside table but the ones in use overnight. See, I don't know about the rest of you, but when I have a cold, my nose drips all night, unless I employ a tissue as a dainty little barrier (those of you with good imaginations are thinking, please don't go any further here!). Anyway, that means I end up sleeping with an odd white protrusion from my nostril, as if I wasn't already unattractive enough with the aforementioned red nose (and does anyone else also get major chapped lips during bad colds?)

Scott, bless his heart, never said a word (maybe because during my last cold, he teased me and I burst into sleep-deprivation-induced tears), and if I didn't love him madly already because he thinks Nicole Kidman is too skinny, this would've clinched the deal. (Who knows, maybe Nicole sleeps with a weird face mask or something else even when her husband is home from tour or rehab?) Meanwhile, I'm mostly breathing clearly again, so tonight I plan to re-establish myself as a woman of mystery. No sran wrap or baby talk, but I will floss my teeth and bleach my arm hair in private.